By  on December 13, 2005

CASERTA, Italy — Research and innovation are essential to combat apparel counterfeiters, experts said during an international symposium on protecting intellectual property in the fashion industry.

The two-day convention that ended here Dec. 1 was organized by Italy's Ministry of Productive Activities, the World Intellectual Property Organization and Italy's Institute for Industrial Promotion. It drew officials from many developing countries.

"[Fashion] companies sometimes feel alone and unprotected, especially abroad," said Vittorio Donati, director of the intellectual property department at Ermenegildo Zegna Holditalia. "Therefore, it's important to know that there are contacts to be made and that synergies between the industry and the institutions can be created."

Donati said Zegna files about 100 legal actions against counterfeiters every year.

"Ties are the most copied items, as they are the simplest to counterfeit," he said.

Claudio Scajola, Italy's minister of productive activities, said protecting intellectual property should be an integral part of a company's expansion strategy as well as a defensive tool.

"Even in traditional sectors, such as textile and ready-to-wear, there are tremendous technological developments and innovation," Scajola said. "As our cost of labor is not competitive, our products must be technological and unique to maintain our leadership even in more traditional industries."

The Italian government is working on simpler and speedier legislation for the protection of intellectual property, setting up an anticounterfeiting commission, collaborating with other countries on IP matters and investing in marketing to educate the public about counterfeits, Scajola said. New legislation allows the government to fine consumers who are caught buying counterfeit goods.

"Prevention is the only cure," said Guriqbal Singh Jaiya, director of the small and medium-sized enterprises division at Geneva-based WIPO. "In today's economy, the focus is on knowledge, useful information that is intangible and information as property, but also public good," said Jaiya, noting how more than 80 percent of Microsoft's market value derives from intangible assets: "What is a brand? The intangible but real value of words, graphics or symbols that are associated with the products or services offered by a business."

Zegna's Donati noted that the company has registered the family's name and label around the world in characters different from the Latin ones, respecting the phonetics as much as possible, to further protect the brand.

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